American Glass Guild Conference 2009 - day one

Email by Elizabeth Steinebach on August 27, 2009
Categories Filed Under: NEWS

Whew, at last, the American Glass Guild Summer Conference, opening day.

No wonder Michael and I were exhausted. All the extra stuff we managed to see before the start of the conference and staying up late watching the latest installment of Harry Potter, at the local cinema. But here it was, the kick off day to the AGG conference.

I bumped into Vic Rothman and Gene Mallard playing around with the bits that were to become the members exhibit matrix. The days first glitch showed up almost immediately, the frames were too tall to fit under the mezzanines covered walkway. The mezzanine opened to the atrium, overlooking the restaurant below and had great indirect sunlight. Hmmm. There was another walkway, just perpendicular to this, but it was a dead end and served as an additional exit, for the ballroom adjacent. The decision had to be made for this to work. So with almost half of the gallery tucked into a very narrow space where people had to jostle around a bit, the only saving grace was the morning light, which flooded in on Saturday morning. The area could get so congested, that Barbara Krueger put out orange pylons for pedestrian and artwork safety.

The opening of the conference was both a great idea and a quirky disaster. It seemed that not many people had arrived for the 1:00 pm opening address. Art Femenella greeted everyone , gave a few tangents about the various auctions and then Art started to lead the group with a meet and greet.

What should have been a short greeting, became a lengthy meandering, where the microphone was passed around, for everyone to say a bit about themselves. Art started us off with - your name and the studio or place you work for, the usual short quip, then he also asked that you include the type of work you do and where you came from, and then adding, how you got started in glass, and then maybe add something about what did you expect from the conference and … just about anything else you felt was important to share.

Well, I heard later that this exercise worked well at the last conference. But this time it was like the energizer bunny got hold and it went on and on and on and on and on. People were getting up and taking a bathroom break or going for coffee. It was going on so long that by the time the microphone got round to the back of the room, at least a dozen late people had time to arrive. This went on so long that it bumped the opening presentation back an hour and a half.

By that time it left the presenters with no sense of timing. Made it completely mandatory for them to hang around, not exactly sure when they would go on or how much time they would have left, to actually present. You could hear the frayed nerves and fatigue in many of the speakers voices, only compounded now by the technical difficulties of dimming house lights, not having a lamp for speakers to read notes, which meant lights on too bright to see slides well or too dark, so the speaker was fumbling with notes and most infuriating issue, pointers and slide advance devices, that did not work. This is not how the caliber of Patrick Reyntiens, Robert Jekyll, Barbara Derix or Bronwyn Hughes should be treated.

By the time everyone spoke, I 'd guess it was about sixty people in all, I could count on one hand the number of truly professionally trained stained glass people that started that way. Again and again it was the studio in the garage, in the basement, spare bedroom, that was the starting point. Making things for family, for friends, when someone came along with a job too big or too good to refuse. Then the need for learning more showed up and by guess or by gosh, the work improved, expanded, grew.

In any organization there is a hierarchy, from those just starting, usually at the bottom, to those wrapping up or finishing their careers, at the top. With any industry, including an artistic one, there are egos and businesses posturing for more than their share of attention. In ours, it's usually the church commission, or some other extraordinarily large installation that is our measure for greatest accomplishment. What was demonstrated with the microphone being past around, was that there were a lot of self taught people, a lot of small studios and a lot of people looking to increase their skill set. If you really paid attention, this exerise spoke to the hard work of the small studio worker/owner and less to the random glory and past history of large studios.

So for those of us still tucked in your one man studio thinking conferences are for the "big" guns of stained glass, you are very misinformed. The "old" studios have the history because they have been around a long time. "Big" studios get big commissions because they have the manpower and need to make big bucks to keep every one employed. And if you weren't at this years conference you wouldn't have met Barbara Derix to know what she and her firm, can do for you.

Then there are cliques, every business or industry has them. It doesn't just play out here at the AGG, but it's seen at the SGAA and most every stained glass forum. The incredible focus on this one little aspect of the business, be it fusing, painting, beveling…whatever, to the exclusion of anything else glass. We really need to remember what is good for one glass person is good for us all. And what better way than learning about different things that are going on with glass, but at a conference?

I think all the speakers were relieved to get there presentations behind them. Some cut them a bit short by choice, others by the moderator. Breaks were shortened as was the dinner break. Things seemed to pull themselves back into some order for the members slide show. This seems much improved from previous years, meaning more than just a few members participated. However the audience had to rely on each other to recognize someones work and something of how it was made or where it was installed. A few members were actually there and could speak to their work. However just as things were going to wrap up, it was mentioned that at least two members had submitted images that did not make it into the show. Then rumblings from a few others, that they had images and could they still be included. The decision was made to reconvene the following night and try again. I personally didn't go back.

I support the AGG, but if you don't notice the warts, they only spread. Art went out of his way to ask for the conference feedback surveys, because the AGG executive know that they need member feedback in order to get better, get direction and ultimately increase membership, so as to survive. The feedback in the past has been so limited, so as for the AGG to offer a discount on next years conference fees, in a lottery of those surveys returned, in order to get that information. So it is vitally important to let them know what you thought.

I'm pretty sure that the speakers individual monographs will be available in the future. It certainly won't be the same without the slide shows and other devices of entertainment, you really missed something of Ken Leap's Lawrence Saint. Conferences are what you make of them, social networking, learning a new skill, having new thoughts and ideas that come from sharing, I hope you are encouraged to attend the conference in the future.